Q&A with David M. Brear, CEO and Co-Founder of 11:FS

Media 7 | August 27, 2021

David Brear, CEO and Co-founder at 11:FS, has pitched, established, and run billion-pound transformations for some of the biggest FS companies in the world. Most recently, he has also led the creation and market establishment of the challenger business bank Mettle for NatWest in the UK as its CEO, proving that the big banks can fight back against the FinTech threat.

Our mantra, our recruitment policy, and our vision for the future at 11:FS are that digital banking is only 1% finished. We say that not because we believe that people have done a bad job, but that people have not yet achieved the things that they set out to do. But more than that, there's 99% of the journey still to come.



MEDIA 7: Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you choose this career path?
DAVID BREAR:
I don't really think I chose this career path. Honestly, I very much sort of chose another path to start with. I was way more interested in playing sports than being a businessman, which is actually funny because now I think sports play such a large part in how I go about doing business. It's almost like a training ground for all other kinds of competitive edges and the mentality that I have today. Sadly, after tearing three ligaments in my left knee I knew I had to get a proper job so I moved from sports, sport science, and human biology into a more grown-up thing. I moved into computing, business, and maths, which was a bit of a shock to the system in terms of the industry. The reason I went for what I'm doing now was my dad gave me a stack of papers and basically said pick an industry where the headlines will still be bad in 20 years. He said if it's not a problem that's going to take 20 years plus to fix then it's probably not an industry that really needs your help. With that, I looked at this digital thing and it looked like it was probably going to be something. The banks and financial services more broadly were in a tough spot so I ended up being greedy and going for both digital and financial services. I guess the rest is history.


M7: Congratulations on 11:FS being the recipient of ‘The Pioneer Award 2021’ and ‘The Consultancy of the Year 2021’. Could you please give us a glimpse of the wonderful journey to these achievements?
DB:
It's funny, we were super proud of the awards. The Consultancy of the Year Award we've won three years in a row now, but we don't really consider them as achievements in themselves, more a sort of directional achievement if that makes sense. These things are essentially assurance that we’re on the road to what we want to achieve, something a lot bigger. Being five and a bit years old and a bootstrap business, it's great to have mainstream reach. Whether it's the British Bank awards or whether it's being recognized by the Financial Times as one of the top management consultancies in financial services, those things really reinforce not that we're at the destination, but we're on the right track.


But if you can sustainably create an outcome and truly master the behaviors and the effort that's required to generate that outcome, then you'll be an expert in something in the industry.



M7: Could you please share your perspective towards the perpetually changing dynamics of ‘Digital Financial Services?
DB:
Our mantra, our recruitment policy, and our vision for the future at 11:FS are that digital banking is only 1% finished. We say that not because we believe that people have done a bad job, but that people have not yet achieved the things that they set out to do. But more than that, there's 99% of the journey still to come. We're in an ever-changing industry. There is more regulatory change now than ever with the facilitation of different types of financial services that never existed before. We're seeing technology advance and be commoditized in a way that we've never really seen before with the advancements around artificial intelligence and cloud capability, or even the revolution that we're seeing within the core banking sphere is really changing what financial services actually means. So for us, in that ever-changing landscape, there's not a day you don't wake up to somebody announcing they're doing something amazing. If you look at the success of 11:FS it's based on the success of the community and the industry as a whole. That's why we're super proud of working in this industry and we're super proud of what everybody is achieving. Our vision is very much about changing the fabric of financial services, and that's not something that 11:FS can do on its own.


M7: In 4 years, 11:FS has gone from zero brands and zero revenues to a multimillion a month business. What do you think brought this massive growth?
DB:
It's easy to say hard work and determination, but it's really just hard work and determination. There's a great amount of timing that plays to that in terms of being in the right place at the right time, but if I'm honest with you I think the nicest thing about the last five and a bit years is that there really isn’t a week that's gone by that we haven't done something super cool. You never really lose and you never really win. It's very much a journey towards the successes that you're looking to do. I think sheer determination and sticking to it in terms of what we're trying to achieve, and given the type of business that we are, we don't have a bunch of people sitting on our board telling us what we should and shouldn't do.

We have the ability to seize the opportunities and recognize those opportunities when they present themselves, and that’s why I think we've been able to achieve the things that we have done. It's having smart people, giving them the remit to really make things happen, move fast, and fall forwards. From my perspective, that's why we started the business in the first place. The more I've reflected on it, the more I realized that I started the business because there was nowhere else I really wanted to work. So being in a situation where we create a company where our core mission is about unleashing talent and focusing everything on getting all of the noise out of the way to allow people to do the best work, everything else just sort of falls into place. How you create success is predominantly by focusing on those behaviors. What is the thing that you have to do every day to drive success?


We're seeing technology advance and be commoditized in a way that we've never really seen before with the advancements around artificial intelligence and cloud capability, or even the revolution that we're seeing within the core banking sphere is really changing what financial services actually means.



M7: What are the major advertising and marketing tools you use to hike up the brand awareness of your company?
DB:
I'd say 11:FS’s brand is roughly 1000 times bigger than 11:FS right now, but that's essentially an opportunity that we're creating for ourselves to grow into those clothes. From the beginning of the business when there was just Jason, Simon, Ross, and myself, we didn't have the budget that other organizations did, which meant we had to think a bit more creatively about how we spent money and how we create a brand. So for us, that was podcasts, it was social media, it was using b2c channels to create a b2b branding in a way that other people just haven't done. Creating a podcast or creating a blog post or putting out some research is easy in itself, but doing it week in week out is where you create a really consistent brand.

You are essentially known for what you do and what we do is add a crazy amount of value to the community by putting out content that shapes the way people think about things. We often get people telling us they get more value from reading the stuff that the team at 11:FS gives away for free than the stuff that, insert consultancies name here, charges 10s of millions of pounds for. That to me is what gives us a real sense of pride. However, we can only do that because we've got insanely passionate people who love the subject matter and who you know take it upon themselves to create great content. People who truly love the industry are at the point where they have an intersection between something they love doing and something that's super impactful. That's got to be the dream.


M7: What is your advice to young people who are starting their careers in Financial Services?
DB:
You've got to be really strategic about your career. Your career is yours, so what are the moves? What do you want to learn? What problem are you trying to understand? Figure out a vantage point that makes your perspective unique rather than the same as everybody else's. That's where value can be created. So for me, within financial services, I decided to try and work from as many different angles as possible. I began my journey in an offshoring company, then a management consultancy, a bank insurance company, and I found that when you can look at the problem from many different vectors then actually your insights are going to be different from everybody else's. You create a unique brand for yourself. I think my advice would be to see whatever problem you're seeking from as many different angles as you can.

The other thing I would say to people is to learn patience. If you want to become professional they say it’s 10,000 hours. But you don't perfect something by doing it once. If you've done it twice, you're probably not an expert. If you've done it 10 times, the same story. But if you can sustainably create an outcome and truly master the behaviors and the effort that's required to generate that outcome, then you'll be an expert in something in the industry. I think a lot of people lose that perspective today, particularly in the on-demand society we live in. I think it was Bruce Lee that said, I don't fear the person who's done 10,000 different kicks, I fear that one person who's done one kick 10,000 times because they will truly have mastered what it means to do that thing, and truly understand how to replicate it. For me, it boils down to patience and hard work. You can't do one without the other.

ABOUT 11:FS

11:FS is a challenger to the incumbent consultancies. We create innovative strategies and build out new propositions and ventures in the UK, US, Europe, and Asia for some of the biggest brands on the planet. Alongside this, 11:FS builds in-house products from competitor benchmarking tools like 11:FS Pulse to core banking and modern architecture systems like 11:FS Foundry. In 4 years, 11:FS has gone from zero brands and zero revenues to a multimillion a month business with one of the hottest brands in fintech, all with zero external investment in the group.